There are some businesses you can start with a very small capital outlay. You can put in your time and a little bit of money and give it a go. But many others—those with large physical presences like retail stores or restaurants, those that have to stock inventory before they can begin to sell it—require a stash of cash in order to get up and running. You may also need money for marketing, advertising, public relations and shipping. And one of the worst mistakes businesses make is trying to run on such a short shoestring budget that they don't give themselves a chance at success. Here are some resources that will help you determine what kind of funding you need to acquire.
Know how much you need. As you get ready to launch your business, estimate how much money you will need to keep your business running for 12 to 18 months, or however long you believe it will take to give it a shot at success. Then figure out how much you can provide from your own stash—your savings, your family and friends, or cash flow from a current job. The difference between what you need and what you have is the amount you'll need to raise from other sources. Download this worksheet to get a good idea.
Visit the Small Business Administration. One of the first sources to explore would be the Small Business Administration, which is responsible for a huge amount of the funding that gets small American businesses off the ground. The SBA doesn't actually make loans itself. Instead, it offers financing at decent rates through normal lending channels like banks and credit unions. They're called SBA loans because the loans are guaranteed by the SBA. You can find more information on SBA loans on the SBA's website at sba.gov. In order to qualify for SBA or other loans, you'll need your business plan, as well as a history of your business experience.
Your personal credit history will factor in as well. Now's a good time to make sure your credit score is in tip-top shape.
continued... Carefully consider personal loans. Many people opt for personal loans in the forms of credit cards and home equity loans and lines of credit in order to fund their start-ups. They do this for two reasons—either they can't get actual business funding (or they don't think they can) or they believe this sort of funding will be cheaper. If you can get a great deal on a home equity loan (7 percent, tax-deductible, works out to be about 5 percent for most people—and that is cheap money), it may seems like a very inexpensive way to go. The problem is you're putting your home on the line. Likewise, if you charge up your credit cards to start a new business, realize that you're putting your personal credit score and family's financial health at risk. That's why I'm a big fan of trying to keep the business and the personal separate.
Get some free advice. Score.org is a group of counselors—largely retired entrepreneurs, accountants, lawyers, etc., 10,000 of them!—who are available to help with your start-up. They've helped get some pretty big-name businesses off the ground, among them Vera Bradley and Vermont Teddy Bear. And their free advice is available to help you wade through the challenges of getting start-up financing.
Still want to ask family and friends? The Bank of Mom and Dad may seem to be the best place to go to for the cash you need, especially if you need it in a hurry. But borrowing from relatives (even close ones) or friends can be a very quick way to put a hitch in an otherwise solid relationship. That's why I like the framework offered through Circle Lending (circlelending.com). When you borrow money from your nearest and dearest using its program, you do it with paperwork, a payment schedule and a plan to follow if and when you can't make a payment. Interest is optional. Your lenders can charge it if they chose to, but many do not.